NEW YORK – Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor have apologized to Mets fans after Baez revealed that a thumbs-down celebration gesture adopted by players was in part a dig at New York fans who have booed the underperforming ballclub.
Baez and Lindor took turns saying they were sorry less than an hour before first pitch of a game Tuesday against the Miami Marlins. That followed a stern statement from team president Sandy Alderson on Sunday night disavowing the gesture, as well as a team meeting Tuesday in which players said they would stop making it.
“I didn’t mean to offend anybody,” Baez said.
Lindor added, “It doesn’t look good on our part.”
Hours after the apology, Baez was booed loudly by fans when he pinch hit in the eighth inning. Fans in a sparse crowd stood and turned down their thumbs while he batted, jeering him until he was hit by a 2-2 pitch on the shin and walked to first.
Lindor also was booed before his first at-bat and again after laying down a successful sacrifice bunt in the resumption of a game postponed by rain in the first inning on April 11.
The 28-year-old Baez was acquired from the Chicago Cubs on July 30 and has hit .210 with four homers and a .709 OPS in 17 games since. Mets fans booed him and others throughout August, when the team has gone 8-19 to fall out of playoff position after leading the NL East for nearly three months.
Players began making the thumbs-down gesture toward their dugout after base hits and other positive plays while at Dodger Stadium from Aug. 20-22.
“When we don’t get success, we’re going to get booed,” Baez explained Sunday. “So they’re going to get booed when we have success.”
Lindor and manager Luis Rojas said Tuesday they believe Baez – whose first language is Spanish but doesn’t use an interpreter when speaking to media – misspoke when he said Mets players were booing the fans.
“I didn’t say the fans are bad, I love the fans, but like, I just felt like we were alone,” Baez said Tuesday. “The fans obviously want to win, and they pay our salary like everybody says, but like, we want to win, too, and the frustration got to us. And, you know, I didn’t mean to offend anybody, and if I offend anybody, we apologize.”
Lindor also said the gesture was not explicitly about fans.
“Thumbs down for me means adversity, the adversity we have gone through in this whole time,” Lindor said. “Like the negative things, we overcome it, so it’s like, `We did it! We went over it!’
“However, it was wrong, and I apologize to whoever I offended. It was not my intent to offend people.”
Baez and Lindor spoke to reporters in front of the Mets’ dugout. Lindor was booed by a few fans when he emerged, and two young boys held up thumbs-down signals behind him while he spoke. After Baez concluded his apology, one fan shouted to him “Javy, we just want to win, bro!”
“Glad to hear our players apologizing to the fans,” first-year owner Steve Cohen said on Twitter. “Let’s get behind our players today and go out and win 2 today!”
The Mets aren’t the only club taking exception to home-cooked ridicule. Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco complained last week about booing from fans in Pittsburgh a couple of days before being released by the team.
“They have to understand that I’m a human being, too,” he said.
Of course, New York is its own beast. Players and coaches expect that underperforming stars in the Big Apple will hear about it from fans.
“Here, I have a lot of respect,” Lindor said. “People are very honest and they let you know.”
Mets fan Will Gregory, 15, said before the game that he wished Baez handled the boos with as much grace as Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Gregory – standing with friends near the players’ entrance seeking autographs – said he respected Stanton for acknowledging the fans’ right to boo.
“He took it a lot differently, saying that, `We need to be better,”‘ Gregory said. “But you know, we’re New Yorkers, and that’s how (Baez) is going to be received if he plays bad. So, if he doesn’t want to get booed, he should just play better.”
The entire team – not just Baez and Lindor – was using the gesture, and Rojas said the players had decided to stop before he addressed the club Tuesday.
Outfielder Kevin Pillar – also in his first season with the team – tweeted Sunday that he’s “felt nothing but love in NYC” and that “No I’m not booing the fans.”
“Please don’t look to much into this,” he wrote.
“Media always searching for anything to cause controversy,” replied pitcher Marcus Stroman. “Stop playing into these narratives.”
Rojas said he didn’t know the meaning of the thumbs-down gesture until Baez’s comments Sunday.
“We’re being accountable for some of those decisions and that’s what I see in this group,” the manager said. “This is a group of guys that I think is accountable for their actions.
“We have leaders in there that have explained how the media, the fans, everything is here,” he added. “And myself, I have always told the guys how accountable we’ve got to be.”
A four-time All-Star, Lindor was acquired from Cleveland over the offseason in the first major move for the team since Cohen purchased the franchise. Lindor signed a $341 million, 10-year deal to remain in New York, but he has been jeered often during a season in which he is hitting .224 with 11 homers and a .686 OPS.
He was hopeful the gesture wouldn’t spoil his relationship with the fan base he is committed to through 2031.
“I hope this doesn’t stick around because it wasn’t meant to offend anybody, to disrespect nobody,” he said. “This is just a time of trying to pick each other up. We’re going through a rough time, and it was a gesture to pick each other up.”